SNOWFALL – Cold Silence

SnowfallIn the noughties, Norwegian hard rock band Winter Parade released two albums for two different independent hard rock labels: while ‘Midnight Paradise’ [MTM Records, 2002] and ‘Two’ [Perris Records, 2008] were a huge commercial success, both found a cult audience. Following the band’s demise, bassist PB Riise teamed up with guitarist Tore Meli and Coldspell drummer Perra Johnson to form the core of Snowfall, a band whom – given their heritage and past links – may, on the surface, be dismissed as just another Scandinavian hard rock band.

There is, however, something important setting them apart from their peers. Firstly, some of their songs are a cut above your run of the mill hard rock plodders (as practiced by the likes of Lover Under Cover et al), but secondly, they’ve drafted in a first-class vocalist to breathe life into their material: step forward, Lee Small. Small turned in a strong performance on his debut with veteran hard rockers Shy in 2011, before pulling out all the stops on his own ‘Jamaica Inn’ in 2012. With Snowfall, the UK based vocalist continues to make his indelible mark upon the world of melodic rock.

The band’s opening statement ‘Don’t Drive Me Home Tonight’ exploits various AOR/melodic rock clichés, but at the same time oozes charm within the confines of the genre. Kicking off with a tough riff and pompy keyboard arrangement, you may feel a similarity to UK melodic rockers Ten, but once the chorus rises up, it’s far catchier hook than that often lauded band have ever managed. With a key change on route and a truckload of melody, it’s a number that’s instantly great, but the chorus really sticks in the head. Snowfall would have already been worth listening to on the strength of this track even if the rest of their material happened to be substandard, but luckily this is not the case… With the pompously titled ‘Citadel of Hope’, Tore Meli offers some great guitar chops, full of late 80s toughness, finding just the right balance between power and melody – offering a top notch solo en route. Small, meanwhile, taps into the more Glenn Hughes inspired end of his vocal range, his voice curling around each line brilliantly. It could have ended up sounding pompous and a little ridiculous, but thanks to great performances from all concerned, it sounds like a Hughes/Thrall leftover…and in melodic hard rock terms, that’s still bordering on the gold standard.

‘Jack of Diamonds’ allows Perra Johnson to stretch into slightly more complex rhythms as the band attempt to get a little funky. The end result combines a slightly dirty guitar riff with another Glenn Hughes inspired vocal take. The addition of old school Hammond organ and sweeping lead guitar solo offer some other great touches; overall, there’s more than enough to make this track stand up, even with a slightly weaker chorus in tow. Showing the quieter side of the band, ‘Heaven’s Not Up There’ is more of a showcase for Small’s vocal range than any musical prowess, as he’s accompanied at times by a lone acoustic guitar. Looking past the quasi-religious leanings, it’s a reasonable – if predictable – rock ballad, with a strong backbeat and some actual presence from bassist PB Riise, who is often lost in the mix elsewhere. Although this album has no outright bad offerings, hard rock stomper ‘Stampede’ errs closely toward filler material. While the tune is simple and direct, not to mention well played, lyrically, it is a little too empty. The band belting out the word “stampede” repeatedly provides a somewhat too simplistic hook, which has definitely outstayed its welcome by the end. Looking at the musical side of things, however, the band appear tough and lean, not too dissimilar to Uriah Heep on their 2011 outing ‘Into The Wild’ (more specifically tunes such as ‘Nail On The Head’ and ‘Money Talk’), so, musically, Snowfall, again prove they’re a cut above most Scandinavian acts.

Those looking for something meaty should look no farther than ‘Alexandria’, a tune which marvellously blends an occasionally slow and slightly imposing riff with a strong sense of atmosphere. As with ‘Citadel of Hope’, genre buffs will not find any huge surprises, but there’s some superb playing here, with Meli firmly in the driving seat. For the closing number ‘The Vesper Bell’, the band pulls all of the best features from their other numbers to create a huge parting statement. The keys blend pomp motifs and string sounds while a reasonably sizable riff drives things ever forward. It’s most surprising element comes courtesy of a vocal phrase straight from the 1970s prog rock handbook, with Small leading a choir of voices through a celebratory “jubilate, hallelujah” in classic Yes/early Heep abandon. It might sound a trifle silly, but given the pomposity of everything else going on, it still fits rather well.

With good playing and a collection of largely very strong songs – including a few absolute belters – this is a great debut, but it’s a shame it didn’t come with a more rounded sound. The recordings here – mixed and mastered by Martin Kronlund – are, on the whole, rather thin sounding. As with so many of Kronlund’s other works, aside from on the quieter moments of ‘Heaven’s Not Up There’, this just has such a lack of bass in places (even when played through some very sturdy 1970s speakers) it’s untrue. Still, if that doesn’t bother you, or your stereo equipment is rubbish and you’re content with accepting the songs at face value, then ‘Cold Silence’ is a very strong record indeed…

April/May 2013